My Privilege

Yesterday, the ophthalmologist shared the news that I have the beginnings of macular degeneration.  My first response was a stab of fear – macular degeneration took Dad’s sight, so I have some familiarity with what it can do.  The second response was the same as I had for colon cancer – I’ll get home, pull out the statistics, and figure out where I am.  The third response was a sense of gratitude. 

Gratitude.  I was in the 7th grade when I wound up with glasses – Dr. Yamamoto explained my vision was better than 20-15, not quite 20-10.  20-10 means that what the hypothetical normal person could distinguish at 10 feet, I could see at 20.  From age 12 on, I wore glasses to achieve better than normal vision.  My reading speed went to 800 words per minute, then 1,300.  Normal reading speed is around 300 wpm.  Tests are much easier for fast readers – particularly multiple choice tests.  The astigmatism that showed up in my undergrad years took a couple of years before it stabilized and the optometrist could prescribe the right correction – but gratitude is the best word I have.  In the academy, the fast readers have the real privilege.  The glasses kept me using iron sights through my 50’s.

Between 45 and 50, I went through the challenges of bifocals – finally listening to an optometrist explain that most people got them 5 or 10 years earlier.  The message I internalized was “Quit sniveling.”  He wasn’t rude enough to put it that way – but I had nearly 40 years of corrected vision that was well above average, during my working years.  It has finally dropped to the bottom edge of 20-20 at 72.  Gratitude for the privilege.  In my late 50’s I wound up with a blepharoplasty – sagging eyelids had taken part of my field of vision.  A morning’s surgery on the upper eyelids and the field of vision was back.

My physician sent me to the ophthalmologist to be tested for diabetic retinopathy.  The good news was that there’s no sign of that.  The bad news was the beginnings of macular degeneration.  Those two words brought the half-minute of fear – it was macular degeneration that brought blindness to my father.  But the bright side is that, at 72, his shooting and reading was behind him (and his driving should have been).  I still have 20-20 vision at 72 (though it scares me to realize I share the road with folks who have 20-40). 

Dad got his cataract surgery after macular degeneration had done its worst.  I’m scheduling mine soon, to get the most out of it.  I’m hoping for a recovery that brings back the ability to focus on the front sight of the 1903A3 rifle – and if I don’t get it, there are better scopes available than I added for Dad.

The percentages for macular degeneration don’t seem to be as easy to extrapolate as they were for colon cancer.  With colon cancer, I had the oncologist’s prediction of survival to 2012 – but I am better at stats than he.  My calculations obviously were also better – in June, I’m 10 years past his designated life expectancy.

So what data is available on macular degeneration?  I’ll be doing a couple months research on the topic to find out what to expect.  I’ve had a lifetime of outstanding vision because of corrective lenses.  I’m grateful the diagnosis came at 72 – and it’s just the first caution sign on the road.

2 thoughts on “My Privilege”

  1. When I met your dad in 1991, he did not see well, however he always recognized me. When one sense is lost other become better. Golden years, my ass.


    1. Thanks, Sandra – 1991 is my reference year . . . Dad was the same age then as I am now, so your comment fixes that as a data point and confirms my memory. Mike


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